Families awarded damages by Japanese court over schoolbus that drove into tsunami


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The Independent Online

A court in Japan has awarded 270 million yen (£1.7m) to parents of four children killed when their nursery school bus carried them into the path of the March 2011 tsunami.

The ruling by the Sendai District Court is the first to award damages over deaths resulting from the disaster, which claimed more than 18,000 lives.

The bus from Hiyori Kindergarten in Ishinomaki City, which lost nearly 6,000 residents in the disaster, took a seaside road to ferry 12 children home, after a tsunami warning to avoid coastal areas had been issued.

Seven children had been dropped off before the bus was hit by the tsunami, killing the five remaining children and the driver.

The kindergarten itself was on high ground, 75ft (23m) above sea level, and the children would have survived if they had remained there. Staff at the kindergarten reported that disaster drills, which are standard practice at Japanese schools, had not been conducted.

Lawyers for the private kindergarten’s parent company, Hasegawa Gakuin, claimed that the head teacher who sent the bus on its usual route couldn’t have known that such a large tsunami would strike. However, the presiding judge, Norio Saiki, ruled that the kindergarten staff should have expected a tsunami after such a massive earthquake had just occurred.

“The kindergarten head failed to collect information and sent the bus seaward, which resulted in the loss of the children’s lives,” said Judge Saiki in his judgement.

The families of four of the children had asked for 270 million yen (£1.7m) in their suit, which was filed in August 2011. There are currently eight damages suits against the operators of businesses and other facilities in the disaster-affected areas working their way through Japan’s notoriously slow-moving legal system.